Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure on a joint in which an examination and sometimes treatment of damage is performed using an arthroscope, an endoscope that is inserted into the joint through a small incision. Arthroscopic procedures can be performed during ACL reconstruction. The advantage over traditional open surgery is that the joint does not have to be opened up fully. For knee arthroscopy only two small incisions are made, one for the arthroscope and one for the surgical instruments to be used in the knee cavity. This reduces recovery time and may increase the rate of success due to less trauma to the connective tissue. It has gained popularity due to evidence of faster recovery times with less scarring, because of the smaller incisions. The surgical instruments are smaller than traditional instruments. Surgeons view the joint area on a video monitor, and can diagnose and repair torn joint tissue, such as ligaments. It is technically possible to do an arthroscopic examination of almost every joint, but is most commonly used for the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, ankle, foot, and hip. biceps tendon (B).

Why is arthroscopy necessary?

Diagnosing joint injuries and disease begins with a thorough medical history, physical examination, and usually X-rays. Additional tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) also scan may be needed. Through the arthroscope, a final diagnosis is made, which may be more accurate than through “open” surgery or from X-ray studies.

Disease and injuries can damage bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Some of the most frequent conditions found during arthroscopic examinations of joints are:

Inflammation

For example, synovitis is an inflammation of the lining in the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or ankle.

Acute or Chronic Injury

  • Shoulder: Rotator cuff tendon tears, impingement syndrome, and recurrent dislocations
  • Knee: Meniscal (cartilage) tears, chondromalacia (wearing or injury of cartilage cushion), and anterior cruciate ligament tears with instability
  • Wrist: Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Loose bodies of bone and/or cartilage: for example, knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, or wrist

Some problems associated with arthritis also can be treated. Several procedures may combine arthroscopic and standard surgery.

  • Rotator cuff surgery
  • Repair or resection of torn cartilage (meniscus) from knee or shoulder
  • Reconstruction of anterior cruciate ligament in knee
  • Removal of inflamed lining (synovium) in knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, ankle
  • Release of carpal tunnel
  • Repair of torn ligaments
  • Removal of loose bone or cartilage in knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, wrist.

Procedure

Arthroscopic surgery, although much easier in terms of recovery than “open” surgery, still requires the use of anesthetics and the special equipment in a hospital operating room or outpatient surgical suite. You will be given a general, spinal, or a local anesthetic, depending on the joint or suspected problem.

A small incision (about the size of a buttonhole) will be made to insert the arthroscope. Several other incisions may be made to see other parts of the joint or insert other instruments.

When indicated, corrective surgery is performed with specially designed instruments that are inserted into the joint through accessory incisions. Initially, arthroscopy was simply a diagnostic tool for planning standard open surgery. With development of better instrumentation and surgical techniques, many conditions can be treated arthroscopically.

For instance, most meniscal tears in the knee can be treated successfully with arthroscopic surgery.

After arthroscopic surgery, the small incisions will be covered with a dressing. You will be moved from the operating room to a recovery room. Many patients need little or no pain medications.

Before being discharged, you will be given instructions about care for your incisions, what activities you should avoid, and which exercises you should do to aid your recovery. During the follow-up visit, the surgeon will inspect your incisions; remove sutures, if present; and discuss your rehabilitation program.

The amount of surgery required and recovery time will depend on the complexity of your problem. Occasionally, during arthroscopy, the surgeon may discover that the injury or disease cannot be treated adequately with arthroscopy alone. The extensive “open” surgery may be performed while you are still anesthetized, or at a later date after you have discussed the findings with your surgeon.

Possible Complications

Although uncommon, complications do occur occasionally during or following arthroscopy. Infection, phlebitis (blood clots of a vein), excessive swelling or bleeding, damage to blood vessels or nerves, and instrument breakage are the most common complications, but occur in far less than 1 percent of all arthroscopic procedures.

Advantages

Although arthroscopic surgery has received a lot of public attention because it is used to treat well-known athletes, it is an extremely valuable tool for all orthopaedic patients and is generally easier on the patient than “open” surgery. Most patients have their arthroscopic surgery as outpatients and are home several hours after the surgery. Recovery

The small puncture wounds take several days to heal. The operative dressing can usually be removed the morning after surgery and adhesive strips can be applied to cover the small healing incisions.

Although the puncture wounds are small and pain in the joint that underwent arthroscopy is minimal, it takes several weeks for the joint to maximally recover. A specific activity and rehabilitation program may be suggested to speed your recover and protect future joint function.

It is not unusual for patients to go back to work or school or resume daily activities within a few days. Athletes and others who are in good physical condition may in some cases return to athletic activities within a few weeks. Remember, though, that people who have arthroscopy can have many different diagnoses and preexisting conditions, so each patient’s arthroscopic surgery is unique to that person. Recovery time will reflect that individuality.